FISH AND WILDLIFE – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER

FISH AND WILDLIFE – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER

“Hey, Kelly.” She felt a hand on her shoulder. “Kelly, are you awake?”

Kelly rolled over and half-opened her eyes. The casement windows were open, and she smelled the ocean before she heard the low hum of the waves. The filmy curtains filtered the bright Florida sun, casting a soft yellow reflection onto the marble floor. She smiled and stretched.

“I am now,” Kelly said. “What could you possibly want at this ungodly hour?”

“7:30 is not an ungodly hour,” said her husband Jeff. “It’s when I leave for work.” She watched him carefully knot his tie. He walked to the bed and brushed her tangled hair out of her face. “Before I left, I wanted to tell you we’re having dinner with the Martins tonight. 7:00 at Nemo’s.”

Kelly sat up in bed. “The Martins? Are you kidding me? Couldn’t you make something up and get out of it?”

“I’ve run out of excuses,” Jeff said, laughing. “And I work with Joe. I can’t fend him off any longer. We can tough it out for a couple of hours. Oh, and they’re gluten free now. Joe said he and Linda feel a lot better since they eliminated gluten from their diet.”

“If you want my opinion, I think Tanqueray’s their problem, not gluten,” Kelly said. “Fine. I’ll be ready at 7:00. It wasn’t part my plan.”

“What are you up to today?” Jeff asked. “You busy?”

“Well, I have the new Martin Amis book,” Kelly said, “and I can’t put it down. I was going to read for a while, then have lunch with Hope and Courteney. After lunch I thought I’d sit by the pool and read some more, then make us dinner. But apparently I’ll be spending my evening with the Martins tonight.”

Kelly and Jeff heard a truck pull into their driveway, the engine sputtering and grinding. The creaky truck door opened, then slammed shut. The sound of frantic barking drifted in through the open windows, followed by a string of expletives. Kelly heard the dog wail, and the barking abruptly stop. Jeff pulled the curtains back and looked out the window.

“Surprise, surprise, your boy Charlie’s actually here today,” Jeff said. “I haven’t seen him since Tuesday. What’s the excuse this time? I’ve been kicking mangos and cigar butts out of the sand all week.”  He glanced at Kelly. “I heard the Haneys were poaching game again. Is that where Charlie’s been? Out hunting with his dad?”

Kelly thought for a minute. “I don’t know exactly but I doubt it. I think his dad just got out of jail, but he’s really sick and can’t watch the kids, and Charlie had to take his dad to the doctor, and then take the kids to school, and…” Jeff held up his hand to stop her.

“OK, so the usual Haney melodrama,” he said. “The weekly crisis. Why can’t we just hire some immigrants to do our yard work like everyone else? Look at the Janney’s yard and beach. Ricardo’s there every day, no excuses and no drama. Every day. It’s spotless out there.”

Kelly shook her head. “Jeff, I want to hire local people. The Haneys have been in this area for years, and Charlie needs a job. It’s hard to get work, and he’s trying his best. I can put up with him skipping one or two days a week when his family needs help.”

Jeff grinned at her. “I’m glad you’re putting master’s degree in social work to good use,” he said. “Cross your fingers that Charlie shows up for the next few days. It’s going to take a while to clean up the yard and the beach.” He walked over to her and kissed her on the forehead. “Have fun with the ladies. Bye.”

Kelly watched Jeff’s athletic frame walk down the hall and disappear. They had met at Florida State University in the early 80s and been together ever since. Jeff was getting his undergraduate business degree and Kelly was finishing her master’s degree. Jeff Douglas wasn’t the type of guy she usually dated. He was jock, in a fraternity, an avid Gators fan, and was four years younger than Kelly. He was also handsome, tall and tan with bright blonde hair and shiny white teeth.

Because of Jeff’s friendly, unassuming manner, Kelly was surprised when she discovered how wealthy his family was. The first time she went to Jeff’s hometown of Naples, back when she was still Kelly Sweeney, she gaped as Jeff pulled up to the enormous, meticulously maintained Mediterranean villa with its lush greenery and velvet lawns.

“Why didn’t you tell me you’re rich,” Kelly asked. “You could have given me a warning.”

“Does it matter?” Jeff asked, grabbing her hand. “Besides, it’s not me, it’s my parents. You should ask them.” He smiled at her. “Let’s unpack and go for a swim. You’ll love it.” Jeff was right. She loved Naples then and was happy when they moved there after she and Jeff were married.

Kelly got out of bed, put on her robe, and went to the window. She watched as Charlie stomped around the lawn, picking up stray leaves and rotten fruit and stuffing them into a Hefty bag. She leaned out the window and called down to him. “Good morning, Charlie. Nice to see you.”

Charlie turned and looked up at her, squinting into the bright sun. “Hey,” he grunted, and resumed stuffing palm fronds and rotten mangos into the bag. It wasn’t the interaction Kelly was hoping for. She wanted him to skim the debris out of the pool and rake the beach before he left. She decided that yelling orders out the window was not her best tactic with him. She sighed, splashed her face with water and headed downstairs.

Kelly walked into the spacious kitchen and opened the French doors to the pool area. Charlie had his back to her as he picked up the yard. She decided to make some coffee before talking to Charlie. She looked at her kitchen and wrinkled her nose. Ten years ago her black granite counters and stainless steel appliances were the height of Naples kitchen decoration chic. She thought she needed a kitchen remodel, but what she really needed was something to do with her time.

Her son and daughter were both away at college, so she had a lot of free time even with her volunteer work. Kelly and Jeff donated money to several charities and attended various galas celebrating the donors generosity. Kelly loved the parties, but she had the nagging feeling that the parties were the main priority rather than the charities they ostensibly supported.

Even before the recession, the disparity between the rich and the poor was pronounced in Naples. The middle class had long since left Naples for Fort Meyers where there were jobs and affordable housing. The less fortunate remained, living in rickety houses at the outskirts of town. The worked at the restaurants, tourist resorts, country clubs, golf courses, and local estates, working at jobs that barely paid a livable wage.

When she and Jeff moved to Naples, before she had her daughter, Kelly worked for Collier County Social Services. Having grown up in Central Florida, Kelly was used to the pockets of poverty that seemed to exist on the outskirts of every Florida town. Her hometown of Crystal River was no exception, but it was mostly middle class. In Naples, people were either wealthy or provided services to the wealthy.

Kelly’s friends hired Central American help to maintain their residences, and teased her about hiring Charlie Haney. According to her friends, immigrants were harder workers and more dependable than the local families. Kelly thought the real reason her girlfriends preferred immigrant labor was because they could pay them less and didn’t have to pay any payroll taxes. But she kept these opinions to herself and stuck with Charlie.

She grabbed her cup of coffee and walked out to the patio. Charlie was picking up Jeff’s discarded cigar butts scattered around the outdoor bar. “Charlie,” she called. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

Charlie dropped the bag, and ambled over to where she stood. “Ma’am,” he said quietly, his pale eyes narrowing as he looked at her.

“How’s your dad doing?” she asked. “I heard he was home. That must be nice for your brother and sisters.”

“How’s that,” Charlie said mildly. “Dad’s sick again. We’ve been waiting on him hand and foot since he got out of jail.”

“Is he working?” Kelly asked.

“Not right now,” he responded. “He was hosing down charter boats at the bay, but got fired last week for missing so much work.” Charlie shrugged. “He’ll figure out something. Now he’s watching the kids, so I guess my brother doesn’t have to do it.”

“Have you heard anything from your Mom? Is she still in Tampa?”

Charlie looked at her for a couple of seconds before he responded. “Uh, no, we haven’t heard from her. Last thing I heard she was working at some restaurant. I don’t really know.” He started walking toward the pool, bag in hand.

“How are you brother and sisters?” Kelly continued, following him to the pool. “Are they all back in school? Do they like it any better this year?”

Charlie shrugged and picked up the bag. “I don’t know. I think they hate it. Ma’am, I’d better get back to work.”

“Before you go, could you make sure to clean the pool,” Kelly asked. “Oh, and could you please rake the beach. I stepped on broken glass a couple of days ago when I was taking a swim.”

“I’ll do it,” he said. “I can never figure out why people have a pool when then live on the beach. And why they want the beach cleaned up when they have a pool. Just doesn’t make any sense.” Charlie retrieved the rake from the tool shed and headed out to the beach.

It didn’t make sense to Kelly either until she and Jeff bought their house. It was nice to have a pool for parties and the kids, but sometimes Kelly wanted to swim in the warm salt water. The beach in front of the house was beautiful, with white sand so fine that it glittered in the sun. The Gulf was warm and protected by the bay, so unless it was stormy was the ocean was calm.

Naples was famous for it’s white sand perfectly groomed beaches. Every morning at dawn you could see hundreds of workers in front of the beachfront homes and resorts with rakes and and buckets, picking up piles of debris left by nature and humans. Everything from errant strands of kelp, crab carcasses, picnic leftovers and condoms were picked up, bagged and disposed of. The final step was raking the glistening sand into smooth parallel lines.

The concept of taming nature in Florida was foreign to Kelly until she moved to Naples. When she was growing up, the family business consisted of guiding tourists through the Crystal River to watch the manatees swim lazily through the warm water. The Sweeney’s owed their livelihood to nature; tourists from all over flocked to Central Florida to see the tropical birds, panthers, alligators, and exotic foliage.

However beautiful, nature in Florida was also inconvenient. Kelly did not love the swarms of mosquitos, huge spiders, and hurricanes. In Crystal Springs, nobody she knew hired workers to cut back the dense foliage, and dispose of rotten fruit and dead flowers. Since moving to Naples, Kelly took the same joy in a smooth, raked beach as her mom took after Kelly vacuumed the shag rugs into rows of perfectly matched triangles. She watched as Charlie methodically raked the white sand.

“Thanks, Charlie,” Kelly called. “We appreciate what you do here. We really do.” She supposed he might be good looking if he wasn’t so scrawny. Or so sullen. She couldn’t remember seeing him smile. When she talked to him, he stared at her expressionless, his pale eyes blank over his high cheekbones. Kelly never knew what he was thinking. Charlie was never rude to her, but he was also never really polite. He just seemed to tolerate her. Kelly finished her coffee, and ran upstairs to the bathroom to shower before lunch.

She dropped her robe and looked at herself critically in the mirror. She was 50, no longer young. She studied her face, the dark circles under her eyes and the fine lines over her lips. She was never the prettiest girl in the room in her 20s and 30s. Her figure a little too full and her features too strong. And she was a brunette, as rare in Florida as the fabled ghost orchid.

As she entered middle age, her features seemed to work better. Many of her lithe blonde friends turned to Botox and fillers as their faces pinched and their features narrowed. Kelly didn’t want to go that route just yet. She looked at the purple circles again, and decided to pick up some new concealer at Saks after lunch.

Charlie and his ancient pickup were gone when Kelly left the house to meet her friends for lunch. She jumped into her Mercedes and pulled out onto the street. The restaurant was only a couple of miles from the house, and Kelly briefly considered walking, but it was getting hot and she was running late. She hoped she could find a place to park.

She took a right at the sign that read “Olde Naples” and drove downtown. Kelly would never get tired of how beautiful Naples was. The shops and restaurants were a mix of Mediterranean style stucco structures combined with an architect’s concept of old Florida. The streets were full of residents and tourists. Everyone looked happy. Downtown Naples always reminded Kelly of Main Street in Disneyland, picture perfect and spotlessly clean. Several people Kelly used to work with at Social Services thought it was creepy, but Kelly loved it.

She pulled the Mercedes into a parking spot across the street from the restaurant. She saw Hope and Courtney waving at her from one of the outdoor tables. Kelly put on her sunglasses and ran across the street. “Hugs,” she said, half-kissing each of her friends on the cheek. She looked at Hope’s smooth face. “You look great,” she said, sitting down and putting her napkin in her lap.

“Well, I feel great,” Hope said. “It was a lot better after the swelling went down. Hardly any bruises.”

“But what about your hair,” Courtney said to Hope. “Can’t they do anything about those ends? They’re frazzled.”

“You should talk,” Hope responded as she looked at Courtney’s white-blonde hair. “Maybe you should consider your original color, whatever that might be.”

The waitress came to their table. “Do you ladies want anything to drink?” she asked.

“We’ll get a bottle of Sancerre,” Kelly said. “And some menus. I’m starving.” She looked at Hope and Courtney. “I haven’t had anything but coffee. Charlie actually showed up today, and I was distracted. No breakfast. He hasn’t been at the house for a week and our place is a mess.”

“Your first mistake,” Courtney said, “was hiring a Haney. They’ve been causing trouble around here since the 70s. Anyway, I thought Charlie was in jail.”

“It was his dad, Del,” Kelly said, taking a sip of her wine. “I guess Del just got out of jail. Charlie said he’s sick, and he isn’t working. He told me his dad got fired from the marina for missing so many days. It’s ridiculous.”

“Most likely drunk sick or drug sick,” Hope said. “Don’t you believe everything you hear. My husband said Del got fired for stealing chips from the marina store. The day’s catch was missing too. A couple of 10-pound snook” She shook her head. “Del just got out of jail for stealing and the first thing he does is steal again. What was he thinking.”

Courtney interrupted Hope. “He wasn’t thinking. The Haneys are all inbred idiots.” “I’ve heard some stories about Charlie, too. I can’t believe you hired him.” She looked at Kelly. “I hear he’s been poaching game with his dad and selling the meat out of that house.” She rolled her eyes. “Swamp people.”

“I can’t believe either of you,” Kelly said. “I’m trying to help a local family out. The Haneys are poor, and they’ve had a lot of bad luck. What’s wrong with trying to help people?” She crossed her arms and looked at her friends. “Not everyone is as lucky as we are. I try to give back a little.”

“Well, you keep being our little town angel,” Hope said. “I hear a bell rings every time you hire a Haney. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that nothing goes missing from your pool bar.”

After lunch, Kelly kissed her friends goodbye and drove to the mall. She wandered the air conditioned halls until she arrived at Saks. After an hour and a lot of help from the sales clerk, Kelly finally decided on the perfect shade of Cle de Peau concealer. It was $75, but the sales clerk said it would be well worth it.

“It takes ten years off your face,” she said, smiling sweetly at Kelly. “And it matches your skin tone perfectly. Trust me, it’s worth it.”

Kelly returned to her car with the Cle de Peau. She briefly thought how horrified her mother would be if she knew Kelly spent $75 to camouflage the circles under eyes. Kelly looked in her bag at the slim black tube. She opened it and dabbed a bit under her eyes. The concealer glided on like beige silk.

Kelly thought about what the Haneys would do with $75. Hope said that Del was fired for stealing food. Kelly thought maybe she should drive to the Walmart, buy $75 worth of groceries, then drop them off at the Haneys. She knew where he lived with his family, because she had dropped Charlie off at his house one day when he couldn’t get his pickup started. He lived in a ramshackle cabin about thirty miles east of Naples, near the entrance to the Big Cypress Park.

Kelly drove to the big Walmart out on Highway 41. She was amazed at how full the parking lot was. She grabbed a cart and navigated it up and down the crowded aisles, filling it full of food she thought Charlie would like. Charlie usually turned down Kelly’s offers for a sandwich after he was done in the yard, so she wasn’t sure what to buy. She filled the cart with organic produce, a few loaves of wheat bread, ham, bologna, and some Sun Chips and headed to the check out.

Kelly drove east on 41, looking for the Ochopee Post Office. She remembered that his family lived on the first dirt road after the post office toward the inlet. There were always tourists pulled over taking photos of “The Smallest Post Office in the US,” so it would be fairly easy to find. Born and raised in Florida, Kelly learned at a young age that there was nothing a tourist wouldn’t take a picture of.

She took a right on the dirt road, dodging the rocks and potholes that led to the Haneys house. Her Mercedes skidded through the dust. Kelly prayed she wouldn’t bottom out and get stuck. After about five miles, Kelly saw the house. She pulled up, parked, and popped open the trunk full of groceries. There were several cars parked next to the house, but she didn’t see Charlie’s truck. Kelly got out of the car and walked up the rotting wood stairs to the screened porch.

She peered in and knocked. Through the screen door, Kelly saw four or five kids crouched around a Nintendo PlayStation positioned in front of a 65″ wide screen TV. “Hello,” she said. “Is Charlie Haney here?'”

A teenage boy unlatched the screen door. “Who are you?” he asked. “What do you want?”

“I’m looking for Charlie Haney,” Kelly said. “He works for me. Is he here?”

“Nope.” the boy said. “I’m his brother Sammy. What do you want?”

“Well, I heard your dad was sick so I brought some groceries over. They’re out in my car.”

“What’s going on out there,” someone yelled. The boy looked quizzically at her and turned around. “I don’t know dad,” he said. “This lady said she brought us groceries.”

A large man emerged from somewhere behind TV. “I’m Del Haney,” he said, coughing loudly. “Who are you now?” he asked. “And what do you want?”  I’ve already talked to my parole officer this week.” He had his son’s pale eyes, but he wasn’t as wiry as Charlie. Del was thick through the middle and his high cheekbones were covered in pockmarks.

She smiled. “Well, hi Mr. Haney, I’m Kelly Douglas. Charlie works for me and my husband. He does some yardwork, cleans our…”

“It’s Del,” he said. “My name’s Del”.

“Del, that’s a great old Florida name. What’s it short for?” Kelly asked.

He stared at her. “Del,” he replied.

“Oh,” Kelly said. “Well, Charlie’s been working for us and…”

“So you’re that lady. The one who likes the beach raked.” He looked at her. “Why don’t you just hire some illegals to do your shit work for you?”

Kelly stared at him, momentarily speechless. “I make an effort to hire local people,” she said nervously. “I want the money to stay in the community.”

Del looked around at the messy yard. “This isn’t Naples, is it? This is Ochopee. Not your community, lady.” He laughed. “Hiring local. That’s a good one. I think Democrats spout shit like that.”

Kelly could hear Charlie’s pickup coming down the dirt road. Del turned his head and watched Charlie pull up to the house, rocks and dust flying. Charlie jumped out of the car and walked slowly over to where Del and Kelly stood.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked, hands on his hips. “Shut up,” he yelled over his shoulder at the barking dog in the front seat. “Is there a problem?”

“No, no problem,” Kelly said, looking at the bloody truck bed, which was piled high with dead turkeys. Kelly knew that turkey season was in the fall. It was April 1st today. There were feathers everywhere. Kelly felt a headache starting to pound in her temples.

“You said your dad was sick, so I picked up some extra groceries at Walmart, and thought I’d drop them off.” She averted her eyes from the back of the pickup. “They’re in the trunk of my car. I thought it would be helpful.”

“Who asked for your help?” said Charlie, glaring. He wiped his sweaty face. “We take care our own. Maybe you should drive back to Naples now. And don’t come back here.”  Del doubled over in a fit of coughing.

“Hang on, hang on, just a minute” he gasped. “Sammy,” he yelled. “Sammy get out here and get these groceries in the house.”

Kelly watched in silence as Sammy grabbed the Walmart bags from the trunk and took them into the house. She turned around and looked at Charlie.

“You. Redneck. Asshole. You’re fired.” She glared at him. “Today was your last day.”

Charlie shrugged. “You think this is the first time I heard that?” He and Del looked at each other and laughed. “You’d better get out of here and keep your mouth shut about the turkeys.”

Kelly fished her car keys out of her purse, got into her Mercedes, and took off in a cloud of dust. When she reached the highway, she pulled out her cell phone and texted Hope: “DO YOU HAVE A RECOMMENDATION FOR A GOOD MAINTENANCE MAN?”

She’d have to hurry if she was going to stop and report the dead turkeys to the Florida game department and make it home in time for dinner with the Martins.

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About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on October 28, 2014, in Fiction, Florida, Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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